A Typical Ride

A Typical Ride


When you read this blog or Bicycle Quarterly, you may get the impression that all our rides go over hundreds of miles and involve at least three mountain passes on gravel roads. The reality is more prosaic. We live in a major urban region, and we have busy lives. A typical ride doesn’t leave the urban area, and takes about 3 hours. For the most part, our rides are similar to those of the average ‘weekend warrior.’ The big rides are like eight-course dinners: rare, memorable events that have little in common with everyday life. Instead of telling you of yet another feast, here is a peek at our weekly fare. Let’s follow Ryan on one of our favorite rides, the ‘North End of Lake Washington.’ This is the course we often use to evaluate Bicycle Quarterly’s test bikes.

We usually meet where the Burke-Gilman Trail passes the University Village shopping mall. Most of our northerly routes out of Seattle converge here.
The Burke-Gilman Trail is a great way to get out of Seattle, and on this weekday, it’s almost deserted. Soon we reach Kenmore at the northern end of Lake Washington and leave the trail.
Juanita Boulevard is a long climb at a steady gradient. It does see some traffic, but the shoulder is wide and relatively clean. Just around the curve is the place that witnessed Mark’s conversion to the idea that ‘planing’ was real. That epiphany occurred when he dropped me on the first test bike we ever rode that was made from superlight tubing. Every time I pass that point, in my mind I hear his laugh as he disappeared up the road.
Juanita is a long climb, but the reward is the descent to Holmes Point. It’s a little-used road that winds its way down a ravine to a small lakeside community.
This corner does not look like much, but it has a wicked decreasing radius. More than one bike with less-than-optimal handling came close to the guardrail here. Ryan has enough confidence in the maneuverability of his l650B bike that he rounds the curve in the aero tuck. He wouldn’t do that when he rode his racing bike.
Holmes Point offers beautiful views of Lake Washington. The single, quiet street seems far away from the urban bustle, and it’s easy to see why houses cost so much here. We  enjoy it briefly, but on a much smaller budget.
There is no downhill without an uphill, and this one is as nice as they come. It undulates and curves as it goes up another ravine. On a test ride, Mark and I would have switched bikes at the public beach. That would tell us one of us is just having a good day, or whether one bike really is faster than the other on the climbs.
The long descent into Kirkland ends with a sprint. Then follows a relaxing little stretch across the water before heading into Kirkland proper.
Leaving Kirkland, we go up the ‘hardest hill of Western Washington.’ It’s not very long, but plenty steep and comes almost without warning. For the past year, there has been construction for a new floating bridge across Lake Washington.
Medina is next. This is where the 1% live – Bill Gates’ house is somewhere around here. For us, this just means quiet streets with almost no traffic.
Instead of braving the traffic of downtown Bellevue, we take a little road along the shore of the lake. It adds a steep climb and a fast descent. Ryan is a bit faster than the sign on the right recommends, but he is ready to brake in case it should be necessary.
Beaux Arts was designed as an artists’ colony, during the early days of Seattle. Instead of logging the area, the houses were built among the trees. The streets curve organically, which makes for more interesting riding.
Instead of riding all the way around Lake Washington, we cross over to Mercer Island. Just before we join the bike path along the floating bridge, there is a little path that adds some (very smooth) gravel to this urban ride.
The bike path along the Interstate is not a favorite part of this ride. It is a bit noisy and completely straight, but it passes quickly.
On the Seattle side, Ryan enjoys one of the many ‘pocket parks’ designed by the Olmstead Brothers. Seattle may not have a Central Park like New York City, but we do have little bits of Olmstead strung along the lake, in places where the terrain was too steep and too unstable to build houses. They are best experienced on a bike, where they provide vacations a few minutes at a time, making you feel like you are in the mountains far away from the city.
The bumpy pavement makes for tricky descents on bikes with narrow tires. That’s why we love wide tires even when our rides don’t stray from pavement.
Another little stretch along the lake brings us to the Arboretum. This side road is closed to cars. A few more pedal strokes, and Ryan will be home. The total ride was about 70 km (45 miles). It takes a little under 3 hours on a good day.

That is a typical ride for us. Our 650B randonneur bikes excel at this type of riding: fast rides with friends on paved roads. They climb with the best, corner better than most, and are great fun to ride. It’s just an added bonus that we also can take them on the long adventures that we try to fit into our schedule at least a few times every year.

We really appreciate these short rides. On familiar roads, we notice changes in the season and the weather, and we can fine-tune our bike handling skills. For our bike tests, riding the same courses allows comparison with how other bikes felt on these particular stretches of road.
What amazes me time and again is how little “urban” these rides feel. Similar courses exist in most metropolitan areas. It takes some looking at maps, talking to other cyclists and exploring to find them, but it is worth the effort. Where do you like to ride?

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Comments (32)

  • AndrewGills

    Looks like a fantastic ride. I like to ride around the Greater Brisbane Area in Queensland Australia. It’s urban with semi-rural areas, including Moreton Bay and the Great Dividing Range.

    December 15, 2012 at 2:39 pm
  • Bob

    Wow! I’m surprised at how similar your regular rides with mine… I thought you guys are rando monsters that goes 100+miles every ride, this is very encouraging.

    December 15, 2012 at 3:22 pm
  • azorch

    We really don’t have anything like a mountain in Missouri, but we do enjoy the constancy of rolling hills. My own typical ride takes me through several miles of these rollers before dropping down into the perfectly flat river bottom farmlands. What goes down does eventually come back up around here, and when I emerge from the flats it’s back into the rollers again.

    December 15, 2012 at 4:42 pm
  • Greg

    Great post, and some great photos! Many thanks for the vicarious thrills…!

    December 15, 2012 at 4:56 pm
  • Steve

    Great post! That’s indeed a beautiful little loop you have there. I know it well. I live about a mile from your meeting place on the Burke-Gilman trail and I’ve ridden that route more times than I can remember. It never really gets old. I especially love the descent on Holmes Pt. road and the twisty trip through Beaux Arts. On the days when I have a little extra time, it’s fun to throw in a quick loop around Mercer Island too. We’re fortunate to live and ride in a place that offers such great opportunities for “vacations a few minutes at a time” as you say.

    December 15, 2012 at 5:42 pm
  • David Feldman

    We are crazy-lucky living in the Northwest; most of us who live in cities and suburbs are amazingly close to rural areas or those ruling-class enclaves that look rural. From Vancouver (WA) you are out in the sticks in a thirty minute ride from close-in tracts, from downtown Portland you go straight uphill into Forest Park and the west hills. I have ridden by working farms less than 1K from major regional shopping malls, seen the barns in slow collapse between new suburbs.

    December 15, 2012 at 9:24 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      You are lucky. Here, the next working farm is in the Snoqualmie valley, about 60 km (35 miles) from my house. But even in the suburbs, there are great routes. It takes a while to find them, but it’s worth the effort.

      December 16, 2012 at 5:54 am
  • Rod Bruckdorfer

    Thanks for the lovely ride story and great photos. It’s refreshing to know, the Rando Gods sometimes take on a corporeal form and appear as mortals, riding routes that we can all ride. 🙂 I am not as fast as Ryan and you but I feel much better about my riding ability and the routes I ride out of Baltimore, MD.

    December 16, 2012 at 5:48 am
  • Allen

    3-4 hours is about all I can usually carve out for myself, so my Sunday rides are a lot like yours. Out of Denver, I use the marvelous Platte River trail, climbing up out of the basin to the Denver Highlands. I head west on a pretty tame artery all the way to Golden. Now I’m about 20 miles into my ride. I climb the iconic (and beautiful) Lookout Mountain road, all the way up to the Boettcher mansion. If I turn around right here and come home (sometimes I’ll loop up towards Evergreen and down into Morrison and into Red Rocks park), It’s a bit more than 3 hours. It includes a good hard climb that offers a challenge every time (but can still be accomplished on a “bad” day). The views are stunning. Parts of the suburbs are a bit boring, and there are a few major stoplights to wait for along the way. But its a very satisfying ride. When the temp climbs above 30 later this morning, I’ll be out there again…

    December 16, 2012 at 8:24 am
  • nishiki83

    While perhaps not as epic or vista-licious as the logging road rides or the longer rando rides, your urban adventure looks like a great “everyday” route.
    Since you ask, here in NY’s in the Hudson Valley, we have excellent riding roads in every direction. Some of my favorite rides are just to the south of my home base in the City of Beacon, with lots of historic unpaved roads with names like Indian Brook, Old Albany Post, Old Forge, and Sunken Mine. On either side of the river, an almost infinite variety of loops from 25 to 80 miles can be put together. The most minimal, only-have-90-minutes-to-ride loop is one that heads west across the Hudson River, then north into the vineyards and apple orchards of Ulster Co. Earlier this fall, I documented one of these quick, basic rides this fall while testing out a bike frame I built up with some spare parts lying about:

    December 16, 2012 at 9:25 am
  • Franklyn Wu

    This is great. I love hearing about folks’ local favorite rides and imagine myself following them on the roads. In reading your post, I can imagine the crisp air and the sound of the bike tires rolling over fallen leaves in this time of year in Seattle.
    We all have our favorite local jaunts. My wife and I are about to get out to ride one. This particular local favorite takes one up the Berkeley Hills on a less travel path, as a couple of bigger streets are popular among cyclists as well as for residents and park-goers to gain access to the hills. The streets we ride are smaller (mostly one-lane with cars parked on both sides), windier, and have varying grades. They also let us pass through eclectic houses perched on the hill sides and give us vistas of varied expanse of the Bay and San Francisco. Further in the route, we will be on the top of the ridge, as well as descending and climbing in forests of redwood trees and california oaks. In less than 30 miles, we go from urban (if you can call Berkeley that) to residential to rural and back, and go up Berkeley Hills (1500′) twice.

    December 16, 2012 at 9:34 am
  • HalB

    Looks like a great ride! Living in the middle of nowhere (Rapid City, SD) I always think in terms of high traffic density, congestion and pollution when riding in major metropolitan areas. Good to know Seattle has some wonderful alternatives. Our favorite ride involves a short drive to the start, a gradual 10 mile grade to the entrance to Custer State Park, a continuous climb to the Needles Hwy turnoff and usually (if I’m alone) a stop and snack at my favorite lake at the halfway point. The return is on a rough chip sealed road where fat Hetres are ideal and sometimes a run-in with buffalo (you just have to wait on them) on the Iron Mountain road. Back to the start and you have a 43 mile ride with about 3800 feet of climbing under your belt. http://ridewithgps.com/routes/1993571 If you’re (anyone) ever out this way we would love to show you.

    December 16, 2012 at 9:50 am
  • awilliams53

    Thanks for a great description of a time-honored bike route, and one that I’ve followed for years, albeit with some variation. But, nothing beats that I-90 bridge bike path for a total Seattle experience.

    December 16, 2012 at 11:54 am
  • Jim Duncan

    Enjoyable to see an almost “indigenous” ride as it were in contrast to your epic rides. The photos show a charming and intimate character to this ride. In the winter, you are riding this loop in the rain most of the time? Do you adjust this route if it’s raining? Thanks.

    December 16, 2012 at 5:17 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      We are lucky to have a flexible schedule, so we don’t ride in the rain that often. Usually, we manage to find a day in between fronts… However, the loop is rideable in the rain, and there is no need to change the route. Staying off the major roads is a good idea at all times.

      December 16, 2012 at 5:20 pm
  • charles

    Glad you shared this…..I was thinking that uber long rides were common for you all after reading the magazine. I now feel I have more in common with you as a cyclist. My normal easy pace rides vary from 8 to 40 miles or about 40 minutes to 3+ hours.

    December 16, 2012 at 11:42 pm
  • Harry Harrison

    Depart L’Auvrere towards Barenton,passing row upon row of leafless cidre trees. Ride out to Domfront on the main road and turn right to Saint Mars d’Egrenne not forgetting to smile and say “mooo” out loud to the Normandie cows, keep to the track for half an hour or so, then right onto the Le Teilleul road. Have a swig of ice-cold water from a wide mouthed stainless steel bidon. Admire the church and spin fast and long in that never going to keep this up mode. Nod to man in wellies and beret buying baguettes. Another right then onto the home leg. Thirty kilometers done. An hour and a half, occasionally less, of the nicest riding possible. All done on my tatty 1963 Rene’ Herse. Enjoy your riding everyone.

    December 16, 2012 at 11:50 pm
  • xtiannaitx

    I think most of us who randonneur (with exceptions, of course) are like Jan in that we have jobs and kids/family, a few other interests, etc. and don’t find ourselves on 100+ mile adventures terribly often. I love my short, prosaic ride: it’s a loop I do several times a week that takes me no more than a few miles from my house. It involves city streets, some gravel, some singletrack, and some old unused roads that are now paths, and culminates with several times up and over and up and over again Observatory Hill on the University of Virginia campus. I do as many hill repats as I feel like. Here’s some photos of this completely in-town ride:
    Thanks for another great post.
    PS: This is about the only blog I read where I also regularly read the comments!

    December 17, 2012 at 7:19 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      Thank you all for sharing your rides. Some of them bring back memories (I love the Berkeley Hills with the views across the Golden Gate), others make me want to visit your parts of the country!

      December 17, 2012 at 7:35 am
  • Melinda

    Lovely! There are roads I didn’t know about in this blog entry, so maybe you’ll see me on them later!
    Is that Points Drive? How is it at the moment?
    I go to Kirkland once a week for work. Cycling there seems to mean either taking Points Drive or 112th ave through Bellevue where everyone is trying to get on 405. I decided to take the bus for the winter because I didn’t like the idea of riding Points Drive under construction in the dark, and 112th is just awful. Is “hardest hill in Western Washington” In quotes because it isn’t true? Please say it isn’t so. I’m enjoying the ego boost.

    December 17, 2012 at 8:48 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      I don’t actually know the street names – much of this course was “learned” by riding with others. Check out the Bikeroutetoaster link, you can zoom in and see the street names there.
      The construction isn’t bad, if you have good lights. Or you could walk a block. I think it is the hardest hill, especially on group rides. It’s late in the ride, you are tired, and then this hill that starts easy and gets steeper and steeper toward the top. You feel like you have a good rhythm, but then the grade steepens and you bog down. You shift, but now the grade is even steeper, and you bog down again. And so on.

      December 17, 2012 at 8:57 am
  • Melinda

    Ah, it’s all a matter of perspective! Usually, when I’m about to climb that hill, I’m in high spirits. I’m on my way home, and I’ve been out of the office and riding for 5 miles or so. I’ve gotten warmed up, but I haven’t gone very far yet. Usually I stop at the bottom for a drink and a snack, and then tootle and creep up it at a snail’s pace, while reminding myself to remain cheerful.
    I do have good lights, so maybe I’ll try it. Are they stil sending everyone through that narrow fenced-off section next to the steep drop? I found that off-putting. I walked it in the daylight once, and that was somehow even harder than riding.

    December 17, 2012 at 11:01 am
  • Bill Gobie

    There is something about Points Dr, the short downgrade where you pick up speed only for it to immediately evaporate when the climb starts, the way it pitches up ever steeper, the lack of shade in summer, that makes this a hard one. There are steeper climbs that do not seem so hard.
    Climb hunters should find this site interesting: http://www.bicycleclimbs.com/ (works well in Chrome, not so well in Safari), although average gradient does not tell the whole story!

    December 17, 2012 at 11:44 am
  • David Gaible

    Jan, that’s one one of my favorite rides as well! One thing you left out in your ride description – the great coffee shops right along the route. Zoka in both the UDistrict and Kirkland, Cafe Rococo in Kirkland, and Perts in Leschi. I know the caffeine certainly helps my riding this time of year.

    December 17, 2012 at 3:03 pm
  • Rod Bruckdorfer

    The Seattle area is the perfect place for Coffeeneur Rides.

    December 18, 2012 at 4:33 am
  • Tim Bird

    A very enjoyable post Jan and fun to get a taste of what you and other folks all over the place do for a quick spin. Your photos remind me of my favourite 2 hour circuit a decade ago when I lived in the Willamette Valley, Oregon. Leaving the flat-lands and pastures to climb into the Coast Range foothills, scented with a million Doug Firs and studded in fall with flaming Vine Maples. The occasional clearcut allowing a peep at the snow-tipped Cascades – sadly I never ventured by bicycle into the really big stuff. Now I enjoy reading about the adventures you and your chums have on those logging roads.
    A favourite spin nowadays, in Yorkshire, England, will be a 3 hour jaunt leaving Ribblesdale via Langcliffe Scar. The latter a beastly climb straight out of the village to get the heart pumping. Then skirting Fountains Fell via Malham Tarn, across bare high tops, to descend with smoking brakes (& mind’t sheep on’t road) into lovely Arnecliffe village. In summer the Falcon Hotel serves beer poured from the jug to sup by the village green. Ahhh – hard to resist! Then follows a lovely tootle up Littondale past woods and crags before sweating again up an easier incline from Halton Gill & Foxup homeward past Tom’s place (moortop cup of tea possible) and an eyewatering downhill through Silverdale & home. They say if you can cycle round here, with all the abrupt ups and downs, you can cycle anywhere. All countryside & lanes from start to finish – I guess if you factor in the refreshment stops, well…. you might be looking at an afternoon!

    December 18, 2012 at 10:47 am
  • Daniel

    It does look like your average rides resemble my rides, except for the mountains in the distance (on clear days) and the taller trees. It always surprises me what is within 15 miles of my house (and I’m not all that far from Boston/Cambridge). One of my rides passes a thousand acre wooded area that I ski in, a place that feels very much like the woods of Vermont.

    December 18, 2012 at 7:02 pm
  • Patrick Moore

    Very interesting — it seems almost human — I imagined you riding nothing less than 100 miles (just a short loosener-upper) and that under five hours. You are lucky that your riding environment has such variety — rolling hills are the best riding terrain, IMO.
    We are lucky to have a good riding environment here in ABQ, NM — good infrastructure, certainly good weather — but we certainly don’t have the variety and wooded beauty of Seattle: the best road and dirt routes don’t coincide with our small wooded bosque, tho’ we do have wonderful vistas with mountains. True, there is nice riding in the mountains, but that is on the city’s far eastside and, at least for my purposes, interests, fitness, and gearing (fixed mostly) it is too far to ride to without making it too far to ride.
    Bill Gobie: I notice that the list of cities on that app is rather limited: do you — does anyone — know of something similar that would include Albuquerque, NM? Cyclemeter on my iPhone gives a rough idea of particular hlls, but it is not designed to “clock” the gradient or elevation change except at start and end of a ride.

    December 18, 2012 at 8:22 pm
  • Bill Gobie

    Patrick — The content on bicycleclimbs.com is entered by users. Go to the home page and email the author to get an account and have him create a region for Albuquerque. Then you can enter your own climbs. NB: the site is old and the mapping is creaky, at least with the Mac browsers I have tried.
    For an alternative, map your climbs on http://ridewithgps.com/. The site displays an elevation profile of a course, and can display gradients. Gradient calculations are strongly affected by small errors in elevation data and usually display a lot of noise, so they may differ from what you actually experience on the road (bicycleclimbs.com is no different).

    December 18, 2012 at 11:02 pm
  • Erik Nilsson

    I discovered Beaux Arts Village a few years ago by taking a wrong turn. Funny to think how many times I detoured around BAV because, well, I just never looked to see what was there. Now I think maybe there are no “wrong” turns on a causal ride, just other turns.

    December 19, 2012 at 1:03 pm
  • Bob McHugh

    Ahhh, the Pacific North West; it’s lush vegetation and beautiful mountains. I used to live in Olympia. Jan’s vivid ride reports take me right back there.
    These days I live in Canberra Australia, up in the southern tablelands, away from the coast. Canberra is a new city, barely 100 years old, planted in the undulating countryside, amid sheep and cattle pasture and tracts of scrubby eucalypt forest. My favourite local ride is a 40 mile ‘loop’ which traverses a good mix of sharp hills, steep sided valleys and longer climbs. A map of the course is here:
    There’s a bit of suburbia to negotiate, departing on bike paths to avoid the swelling traffic but returning on the side roads when they are quieter and hence more conducive to sustained, hard effort. The real fun begins when I reach the quiet, rural countryside after about half an hour of riding. At about the same point my legs have usually warmed up. That’s when exhilaration really begins to take over! Often I will have the company of brightly coloured parrots – eastern rosellas, crimson rosellas, galahs – either flittering in the gums which line the road or flying just ahead of me in groups of three or four. Last week four large birds, the beautiful yellow-tailed black cockatoo, flew closely across my path as I braked hard to conclude a sharp descent of the Murrumbidgee Valley with a tight turn at the low level crossing of the river.
    The best part of the course is the long, even grade from the second crossing of the Murrumbidgee to the top of Mt Stromolo. That’s where the legs really get a work out. The vegetation in this area is still recovering from a vicious bushfire which destroyed the Mt Stromolo astronomical observatory ten years ago. The telescopes were never replaced, the old domes being preserved in their derelict state. In their place, new buildings were constructed to house research which is linked to observing facilities around the world.
    I tackle this loop three or four times a week, working as hard as my 60 year old body will allow. Ridden in this fashion the course provides a very good base for randonneuring, both informal rides or as formal events which we over here call ‘Audax’.

    December 19, 2012 at 7:44 pm
  • Oreste Drapaca

    you all lead an enchanted life… not quite like fighting taxicabs & dump trucks in New York, Brooklyn & Co…

    December 20, 2012 at 6:41 pm

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